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23 Jun 2022


From the CEO: Refugee Week a chance to reflect on refugee contributions and Australia’s role

On World Refugee Day, June 20, Fatima Payman became Australia’s first Afghan-born Australian elected to the federal parliament.

Ms Payman’s refugee father brought her to Australia with the rest of her family when she was 8. She is also the first hijab-wearing member of parliament and the third youngest to be elected to the Senate.

This is important for many reasons.

We all benefit when our nation is governed by diverse representatives with lived experience they can bring to the floor of parliament. But, as Ms Payman herself said in her first public interview as a senator, young girls and other women “can’t be what they can’t see”, and so I hope that her win serves as inspiration to others, whether from refugee or other backgrounds.

The second heartwarming thing was the release of new research from Amnesty International, and Ipsos, showing Australians’ strong support of refugees.

Highlights from Amnesty’s research, released on June 19, found that 72 per cent of Australians support either maintaining or increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake and that most Australians support refugees being settled in Australia. Fifty-seven per cent back community sponsorship if communities can support the refugees.

Amnesty’s annual Human Rights Barometer also found that most Australians think our government spends too much money keeping asylum seekers locked in detention.

The Ipsos research paints an international picture and includes Australian respondents. It found that three-in-four adults across 28 countries surveyed agreed that people should be able to take refuge in other countries to escape war or persecution.

It also found attitudes towards refugees have become more positive on average, since last year.

SSI will continue to work with the Federal Government to advocate for refugees and asylum seekers. We hope to soon see an increase in Australia’s humanitarian intake, community sponsored refugee program intake, and other key settlement changes Labor took to the election as promises.

I want to leave you with some more positive information.

When I’m asked to speak about those who come to our country as refugees, asylum seekers or migrants, I like to remind people of this research from Oxford University Professor Ian Goldin, who found that migrants are:

  • 2 to 3 times more likely to start a business
  • 2 to 3 times more likely to win Nobel Prizes
  • 2 to 4 times more likely to lodge patents!

Of course, that doesn’t include the rich cultural and social contributions they bring, along with admirable traits like resilience and adaptability.

At SSI we are privileged to be able to offer a warm welcome to our new arrivals and help them adjust to living in a new culture and society where much of what they find is different, can be complex, and at times overwhelming. Every day I get to meet the most amazing people!

I hope you have been able to participate in some of our celebration events, had a chance to meet some of our refugees, or simply took a moment to appreciate that we truly are the lucky country in a world where millions of others face wars, famine and displacement.

We welcome your support outside of Refugee Week of course. We welcome donations and have many volunteering opportunities. Perhaps you might listen to some stories to understand more about the refugee experience, extend a warm smile, or the hand of friendship.

Building awareness of the refugee and migration experience helps promote understanding and greater community harmony.

In today’s world, this is a rare and precious thing.

Let’s all play our part, every day of the week, to welcome and celebrate refugees and contribute to a better and more cohesive multicultural Australia.

Violet Roumeliotis

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